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On the road to #rp12: Multilingual EU blogging, translations and the fascination of Presseurop

The EU-focussed blogosphere is dominated by English language blogs. The search for multilingual EU blogging is cumbersome, even when pan-European political debates take place on issues of common interest.

Some of the solutions to overcome these problems are (1) bilingual EU blogs, (2) EU bloggers writing different blogs in different languages, (3) ad hoc cross-blog translation as well as  (4) multi- or translingual news and blog platforms covering European and EU issues.

Bilingual blogs

It’s not the most common phenomenon but blogs like the French-German vasistas (although a bit German-heavy lately) with a mix of articles in both languages, the English-French EU Weekly where Greg translates each article into both languages or the French-English Europasionaria with some translations and some posts that only exists in one language are one way to speak to different national or linguistic audiences at the same time.

EU bloggers writing different blogs in different languages

Another way is to speak to different audiences on different blogs. In some sense, this is like bilingual blogging but in the second case the audiences are not necessarily faced with the multilingual reality of a European sphere. One of the most prolific examples of EU bloggers writing different blogs in different languages is fellow Bloggingportal.eu editor Ralf Grahn. He manages to write one blog in English, one in Swedish (both currently suspended for technical reasons) and one in Finnish (currently trilingual). EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has continued her “private” Swedish blog that she already wrote as Swedish EU minister but also writes an official Commission blog in English. And Vihar used to write his EU Law blog in an English version and in Bulgarian.

Ad hoc cross-blog translations

Cross-blog translations are great examples of the European blogosphere. Through such ad hoc translations, bloggers who know their own readership in their own language quite well help to bring complex content to their audiences when it fits. Kosmopolit’s already famous “Short guide to lazy EU journalism” got translated into 10 European languages. Falk recently asked me whether I could translate an English blog post of mine for his German blog. And last year Kaffee bei mir… made the huge effort herself to translate a long English post of mine into German. Neither Kosmopolit nor I would have thought of translating these posts on our own, but knowing that a post of yours suddenly becomes read by people who might not have read the original text is very refreshing.

Multi- and translingual platforms

Multi- and translingual platforms, that is platforms existing in several parallel language versions or mixing these language versions, could in theory be one solution to the lack of common topics about which a European blogosphere could debate or the dominance of English that makes debates only accessible for those able and willing to speak this quasi lingua franca in European politics.

And indeed, there have been efforts to overcome this monolingual approach to European blogging, scaling up the level from bilingual blogging and ad hoc translations to a more refined level of news and blog platforms available in several languages. Some examples I know:

Let’s be franc: Although all these a great examples in themselves because they show that with some effort or some money one can get beyond the linguistic limitations of European debates, the only convincing example in the sense of a European Online Public Sphere probably is Presseurop. I’m not aware of any other platform that provides most of the features needed for European debates:

  1. They do have translations of news or blog posts in different languages (like Eurotopics or Cafe Babel).
  2. They also cover some smaller EU languages (like Bloggingportal.eu);
  3. They allow comments for each article (like Cafe Babel or the JEF blogs);
  4. They not only have “imported” news content but also original blog content for each language (like Cafe Babel and the JEF blogs). Unfortunately, these are not translated.
  5. The comments under each translated version of the press article appear in all language versions (unique). Unfortunately, this does not include a button for machine translation for comments in languages I do not understand.

Especially the last point, the multilingual commenting is fascinating. People who comment in German under the German version of a news article see also the Italian comments posted below the Italian version. For example, below the article “End of the road for European austerity” there are comments in eight languages, and someone even reacts in English to a French comment.

A platform like Presseurop is a sign that in the digital sphere a European media landscape, including translingual discussions, is possible. It’s still one of the few existing examples, it is a more or less top-down profession enterprise and it still has some shortcomings, but it’s still a very good example of where we can go.

If more of these platforms were to develop and if their readership would rise, they would not only be spaces for debate but could become points of reference (‘hubs’) for a multilingual European blogosphere, taking up European or national debates from one linguistic community, spark discussions right away on their own platform through multilingual commenting and provide the occasion for blogs written in all kinds of languages to refer to these discussions and continue them in their own linguistic or thematic environments.

Conclusion

In the end, we will need a mix of all these efforts – bi- and multilingual blogging of individuals, ad hoc translation where discussion matter not just for one language community as well larger platforms that can attract a mixed multilingual audience and bring people together who might not have communicated with each other otherwise – to create a common European space. This is possible, and the examples above show that it is happening.

This post is part of a series of blog posts in preparation of my talk at the re:publica 12 on 3 May 2012. Previous posts here (EN), here (EN), here (EN), here (German), here (EN), or here (EN).



17 Responses to On the road to #rp12: Multilingual EU blogging, translations and the fascination of Presseurop

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